Hochul hunts for marijuana DWI test as NY opens cannabis shops | Turn 420
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Hochul hunts for marijuana DWI test as NY opens cannabis shops



New York is putting the doobie before traffic safety, law enforcement officials charge — and it’s forcing Albany to give the issue high priority.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s administration is scrambling to develop a way to measure when motorists are driving while under the influence of cannabis since there’s no current standard or valid testing, the Post has learned.

The move comes ahead of the expected issuance of of up to 175 retail licenses to sell marijuana in the coming weeks — jacking up pot access and usage that could potentially put more weed-whacked motorists on the road. 

“With the legalization of adult-use cannabis, there are concerns of increased incidences of driving while impaired after cannabis use,” the state Department of Health said in a proposal seeking solutions to detect motorists driving high on pot.

“Identifying drivers impaired by cannabis use is of critical importance…..However, unlike alcohol, there are currently no evidence-based methods to detect cannabis-impaired driving,” health officials said in the pitch to potential bidders.

The DOH is looking for the latest academic research related to cannabis testing — like blood, saliva, or breath — and if pot intoxication can be linked to motor vehicle crashes. 

A recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found in states with legal marijuana, the rate of car crashes with injuries spiked by nearly 6% and fatal crashes jumped by 4%. The analysis compared five states with legal pot for those over 21 (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada) with states without legal marijuana — Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

There were no increases in crashes in the states without legal marijuana, the researchers said.

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” said Institute for Highway Safety president David Harkey.

A separate survey found a third of drivers who drink alcohol and use marijuana at the same time report getting behind the wheel of a car within two hours of consumption — a worrisome finding since there’s evidence the alcohol and pot combo worsens driving performance more than either substance by itself, he added.

New York law enforcement groups opposed legal marijuana in large part because of the hurdles in proving drugged driving.

The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act was approved by ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature in March 2021 while Hochul was lieutenant governor.

When she took over as governor, Hochul moved to accelerate the process to regulate and sell cannabis in New York after pro-pot advocates accused Cuomo of slow-walking implementation of the law.

Cannabis remains in a person’s system longer than alcohol, making it harder to link usage to DWI, officials said — and there’s no test like an alcohol breathalyzer to prove intoxication. The cannabis law required DOH to issue a proposal to investigate ways to validly test for pot intoxication.

“This is reckless. We needed to solve the DWI problems before we legalized cannabis,” said Patrick Phelan, executive director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police.

The New York State District Attorneys Association also slammed policy makers for putting marijuana legalization ahead of public safety.

“Research into ways to keep our roadways safe and enforce New York State’s drugged driving laws related to marijuana should have begun in earnest way before the start of recreational sales. In the meantime, there will be more marijuana impaired motorists on our roads,” said association president Anthony Jordan, the upstate Washington County DA.

Nassau County DA Anne Donnelly said legal pot chas already become a traffic safety problem.

“Everywhere you go – on highways or side streets – the smell of marijuana coming from a moving vehicle is commonplace,” Donnelly said.

For now, Donnelly said roadside saliva tests have “shown promise” in helping determine recent marijuana use.

Nineteen U.S. states have legalized marijuana for recreational use — including the New York border states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), one of the architects of the cannabis law, said policy makers made it a point to include funding from weed-related taxes to train more state and local police on how to evaluate drivers intoxicated from cannabis and other drugs and to “implement cannabis testing upon driving `stops’ when proven models came on the market.”

“Revenue from our legalized system will be used to pay these ongoing costs, so no unfunded costs for the state,” she said.

Hochul’s traffic safety committee — which includes the departments of motor vehicles, health and state police — insisted it’s beefing up observational training and enforcement for DWI in the wake of legalized marijuana sales and use.

In April, the administration launched an ad campaign with a “don’t drive high” warning to pot users.

“Driving under the influence of cannabis remains illegal, and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee is committed to ensuring safety on our roadways. GTSC regularly trains officers to become Drug Recognition Experts… so that they can observe and document signs and indicators of impairment within each of seven drug categories including cannabis,” traffic committee spokesman Walter McClure said in a statement.

According to GTSC, the state currently has almost 400 officers trained to be “drug recognition experts” and is training thousands of officers in roadside impaired driving enforcement.

“GTSC works annually with law enforcement on impaired driving education and enforcement campaigns,” McClure said.

A DOH spokesman added that officers are “well trained” to detect motorists impaired by marijuana and other drugs and the new proposal is aimed at finding “if there are other methods and technologies in development that will create even more tools, akin to the breathalyzers used in alcohol field sobriety tests, that can aid this important work.”

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